REENA KARIM and her friend head to a lesser-known part of Khao Yai for a blissful weekend at Ndol Streamside Thai Villas.
I have had just about enough of beachside retreats. The novelty of the ocean, the sound of waves, the sand, and the romance of the sunset usually wear out after the first day, which is why I am glad I got a chance to escape into a more hilly and forested scenery for a change. Alright, it may not sound like the most out-of-the-box idea. But if you have been flying to the South of Thailand every other weekend and attending those big fat Indian weddings, a place like Ndol Streamside Thai Villas in Khao Yai is exactly what you need.
As I lie under a comfy duvet, gazing at the thatched pavilion ceiling, I wonder why Indians still choose the overdone touristy sites even though there are plenty of other options out there. I am just about dozing off with that thought when the alarm on my phone goes off. I usually hit snooze about five times before I even consider rolling out of bed, but today Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” make me want to get out of bed and do the things I had planned to do the night before.
My friend Martha and I walk down to the lobby, passing by a collection of framed black-and-white photos of the owner’s family and friends, which bring a home-like appeal to the resort. We are the only ones at breakfast at the semi-outdoor Malai Veranda restaurant. The buffet is not a mile long, but it has more than everything one needs—congee, rice and noodle dishes, along with cold cuts, eggs, waffle, and other baked items. Martha chooses a cosy nook and we got settled. The wait staff kept refilling our coffee cups and stood by dutifully in case we required anything else. After a satisfying meal, we took a walk around the resort.
Located in Saraburi province, west of Khao Yai National Park, Ndol Streamside Thai Villas is cocooned in lush tropical garden and sits next to a stream that runs between Muak Lek and Jed Sao Noi Waterfalls. The therapeutic sounds of the stream and chirping of birds make for an extremely relaxing ambience. It offers the level of service and modern comfort as many of the major hotel chains, but on a much smaller and more intimate scale. Ndol has been a recipient of the Silver Award in the category of Luxury River Hotels at the Thailand Boutique Hotel Awards in 2012. If the five-star extravagance of hotel chains isn’t your thing, then you will definitely appreciate the everybody-knows-your-name vibe here.
Built in 2009 by Dolchai Boonyaratavej, the property was initially meant to be a vacation home for his family and friends. But after friends started flocking to the place more often than usual, Dolchai decided to turn the three-rai land into a holiday retreat. A man of numerous talents, he took advantage of his architecture degree from Syracuse University to design every nook and corner of the place, including landscaping—getting rid of metre-high grass and levelling its rocky terrain. His current career as the president of a branding agency helps him set the place apart from others. But that is not all; he is also a talented musician with an album. Ndol started out with just three villas, collectively called the Siam wing, which comprises of Thai teak homes that are over a 100 years old. Dolchai, an antique collector, purchased the homes in Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan, and brought them in pieces to be assembled here without any nails and hammer, keeping with traditional building techniques. The compound soon grew to include three more villas—a two-bedroom pool villa and a honeymoon suite, all of them with private terraces and some with outdoor dining areas. Dolchai further added a modern Oriental wing, featuring six suites, with touches of various Asian architectural and design aesthetics. The last phase of the resort, still under construction at the time of our visit, will include stream-front apartment-style suites.
The property is family-owned, and it is obvious that every detail and space were given much thought, including the experience of guests. Ndol reflects not only Dolchai’s fondness for Thai architecture but also his quirky sense of style. The property houses half of his antique collection, which ranges from ceramics to sculptures and stone statues to wall art pieces with mirror work, lamp shades, and teak furniture—a result of more than three decades of travels across Southeast Asia.
We stay in Dolchai’s favourite villa in the Siam wing. Situated on the first floor and overlooking both the pool and the stream, the cosy teakwood villa oozes with charm and character. At the entrance to the villa stands our private outdoor terrace, a great location for a sundowner. Inside, the bedroom area is one step higher than the rest of the room. The villa mixes Thai decor—Jim Thompson wallpapers and Thai triangle roll-out cushion—with the modern comforts of a plasma television, a DVD player, a fully stocked mini-bar, and tea-and-coffee-making amenities. The spacious shower area was like a dream, especially since it features a two-person deep soaking marble bathtub, as well as a separate rain shower area.
The Summer lounge, next to the reception is one of our favourite spots to laze around in. It is also the most eclectically decorated. The airy room mix-and-matches couches and throw pillows, with wallpaper from Jim Thompson, porcelain from China, and Thai teakwood cabinets filled with books and DVDs. Later in the day, I treated myself to a relaxing jasmine rice scrub and massage at the spa and browsed their spa products, fisherman pants, scarves, and other curios at the boutique store that are designed by Dolchai himself. We end up buying hand-woven sarongs with Ndol’s logo, two fish in a circle.
The mid-afternoon temperature is the perfect reason for us to enjoy the stream. After being advised to watch for the sharp rocks, we carefully find our footing and cool off in the water. After an hour or so, we head back into the Summer lounge to enjoy a platter of treats such as satay and kratong tong accompanied by chilled glasses of roselle.
Later that evening, we enjoy dinner at the deck beside Café Tara, which serves royal Thai cuisine. We order green moon flower with prawn, chili and herbs paste in tamarind soup, grilled duckling breast with herbs and peanut butter, and an aromatic soup with shrimp paste with tropical herbs in coconut milk and vegetables. The restaurant also offers a range of popular Thai dishes with a small selection of Western dishes like pastas and sandwiches. Ndol makes an effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The kitchen uses organic vegetables that come from their own garden, and the spa products, such as oils, scrubs, creams, and shampoos, from Ndol’s Senses line are herbal and organic.
The resort also makes for a great place for weddings, especially those that are looking for an intimate space with lots of character. Café Tara, which serves as a small meeting and conference room, can accommodate up to 40 guests for a reception dinner. The deck area just outside of the cafe can be used as an outdoor dining location or a cocktail party. Ndol has hosted a few themed weddings in the past. A bigger function room, still in construction, will be added to the new wing of the hotel.
Despite having a great product, Dolchai says he still needs to educate people about the location of the place. Saraburi is slowly coat-tailing on the success of Khao Yai, but many tourists are still oblivious of its existence and of the numerous independent resorts that line the stream. Dolchai believes this region needs more tourism awareness and will develop much more over time.
Ndol’s distinctiveness is what sets them apart from the competition. Exceptional service, authentic cuisine, luxury at its finest and at affordable prices, and its homage to Thai culture are just some of the things that make Ndol Streamside a unique getaway.
Featured in Masala magazine Bangkok, April 2014